Newbridge is for Lovers

gorch.jpgNow that I’ve written a snotty and spiteful post about comedy, I feel it my duty to balance my Prose Karma and dedicate some energy to the righteous of the world.

As readers of this site know, I get Comedic Man-Crushes about bi-yearly. When they overcome me, I become a maniacal evangelist for my beloved’s cause: burning CDs of their best stuff for friends, reciting lines to my endlessly patient wife, carving their names into telephone poles.

This goes all the way back to my childhood, when I used to recite Peanuts comic strips and Monty Python routines into a tape recorder. I still have no idea why I did this; something just compelled me, as if performing my favorite pieces would make me funny by osmosis. I went so far as to enlist one or both my brothers to play opposite me as the pet shop owner in the Dead Parrot Sketch, or flesh out the Mountie chorus for the Lumberjack Sketch.

If those tapes ever surface–well, it’ll just confirm the dorkitude I profess on this site on a daily basis. However, I digress. Today I write of the latest heart on my Trapper Keeper cover: The Best Show on WFMU.

I’ve been listening to WFMU for many a moon, but I only heard The Best Show for the first time last year, thanks to an appearance by ex-Comedic Man-Crush Patton Oswalt (we’re
just good friends now). That episode was quite hilarious, and though I wasn’t quite hooked yet, it laid the groundwork for my future addiction. It was kinda like a pusher handing over a tasty sample. First one’s free, kid.

If you’ve never heard The Best Show, it’s hard to articulate exactly what’s so awesome about it. It’s deceptively simple. On the surface, it’s a talk show hosted by Tom Scharpling (day job: writer/producer for Monk). He plays the occasional tune, takes calls on topics he throws out to his audience, and welcomes in the occasional comedic guest like Paul F. Tompkins or Zach Galafinakis.

In the most famous and consistently hilarious portion of the program, Tom fields calls from imaginary denizens of Newbridge, New Jersey (where Tom purports to live; he also refers to it as the Tri-Bridge Area). It took me a few listens to realize that there’s no such place as Newbridge, because the state of New Jersey has roughly 5000 municipalities that end in “-bridge”. Such subtlety, and the willingness to go completely over people’s heads,
indicates just how brilliant the show is.

[Although I should not discount the call-in portion of the show. I think I first realized its
true awesomeness earlier this year, when the show’s topic was “Bad Kid Stories.” One caller reminisced about working in a Chuck E. Cheese-type joint, and being commanded by some bratty kid to bring him more food with the hilarious demand, “More pizza, slave!” That phrase has now entered my lexicon of Weird Things I Say To People That I Then Have to Explain While They Roll Their Eyes.]

The fake callers are voiced by Tom’s comedic partner, Jon Wurster, best known as the drummer for Superchunk, the Mountain Goats, and a few other indie ensembles. The calls tend to be deluded or misinformed folks whose insanity reveals itself at an almost glacial pace. It’s like a classic Edgar Kennedy/Ted Knight Slow Burn, except instead of getting angrier, the callers get crazier. And because Tom can’t be on board with whatever madness they propose, the callers inevitably threaten to murder him.

My all time fave has to be “The Gorch,” aka Roland Gorchnick, who insists he was the basis for The Fonz. Unlike TV’s Henry Winkler, however, The Gorch stole stuff. And hung out in a clubhouse made of beer bottles. And whipped people with chains constantly. And dropped cars on guys.

I listened to “The Gorch” on my iPod on the way to work one morning, and laughed so hard that I cleared a radius around my seat because everyone thought I was insane. I’d like
to point out that the bus I take in the morning travels through some decidedly ungentrified neighborhoods. And that I’ve seen racial incidents almost ignited more than once because of overcrowding and shoving and angry words exchanged, with nary an eyebrow raised by passengers who weren’t directly involved in the fracas.

So yeah, I was laughing loud enough to get a rise out of people immune to a mini-Crown-Heights-riot occurring three feet from their faces. Now that’s loud!

As I listened to more and more of The Best Show, the more I discovered that the “Newbridge” calls referenced one another. What seemed like just hilarious fake phone calls were actually an intricate, interlaced mythology. I would listen to a show from 2004 and learn that what seemed like a non sequitur in a newer show was actually a reference to
earlier tales. Like when callers threaten to “barge” Tom, or a caller refers to a Newbridge locale like The Pleasure Tent or Muffler Row.

Or various names that are tossed out offhand, like “local songwriter” Ronald Thomas Clontle, who penned the immortal song “Rock n’ Roll Dreams Will Come Through”–which in turn was given a stirring cover rendition by Ted Leo during the WFMU pledge drive in 2007.

And then I realized the The Best Show offers obsessives like myself what they really want: a complete universe to delve into, something they can explore forever looking for a Truth that is completely impossible to discover. It provides the same Endless World found by Dylan fans who pore over the Basement Tapes, or Dead fans who have to collect every live set. Except The Best Show doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously. And there’s more death threats.

These words don’t do the show justice. So I’ll let The Best Show speak for itself. Here’s one of my favorite bits, from way back in August 2001. (That’s how deep I’m into this thing; I’m listening to 7-year-old shows. If you see me, notify the local authorities.)

Tom got a call from Augie Richards, proprietor of Ye Olde Burger Barn. Augie tells Tom that his restaurant/bar hosts a weekly Best Show Night, and they’d love to have him do a remote. Tom sounds interested, until Augie reveals the details of his establishment’s fearsome Burger Butler–not to mention their even more frightening prices.

If you dug that–and if you didn’t, I don’t know if there’s any hope for you–I humbly suggest you go to the Best Show Archives and pick a show to listen to. Any show will do. Or you could subscribe to the Best Show podcast via iTunes (it’s this new music application you may have heard of).

If all of this tickles your fancy, you may be interested in the Scharpling/Wurster Best of the Best Show CDs, also available from the newfangled iTunes whatchihoozit. If you’re strapped for cash and can only purchase one or two albums, I humbly suggest “New Hope for the Ape Eared” and/or “Hippy Justice”.

I guarantee this show will take over your life and invade your soul. Or, barring that, just make you laugh a lot. The soul-destroying stuff is just an added bonus.